Content Analysis of Niyi Osundare’s “NEPA”


When the Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, sang “Original Suffer Head”, he had in mind the poor living conditions Nigerians are subjected to by their bad, irresponsible promise-and-fail government. His song takes into account among many other things the irregular, epileptic electricity supply which has been the scourge of many striving Nigerians.

Fela sings of how the rich and important personalities get preferential treatment when it comes to electricity supply. In case every other thing or arrangement fails, they also have access to power plants and generators.

So, Fela basically focuses on the ordinary man (sic) who doesn’t have access to good electricity, plants and generators and has to contend with the irregular power supply. Fela sings:


Na so so sunlight for Africa. Plenty plenty energy for Africa. Energy for sun, energy for moon, energy for oil.

Na so so energy for Africa. Na the big big people dem go dey get electric. If dem no get electric, dem got get plant o. Light for ordinary man for town now nko o?

E no dey (chorus)

No dey e dey

E no dey (chorus)

Why you go see am?

E no dey (chorus)

E dey go dey come

E no dey (chorus)

E dey come dey go

E no dey (chorus)

E go bright gan

E no dey (chorus)

E go bright small

E no dey (chorus)

If e no go

E no dey (chorus)

E go come

E no dey (chorus)

If e no come

E no dey (chorus)

E go go.

— Fela Anikulapo Kuti
(Original Suffer Head)

As evident in the above excerpt, the striving masses are at the receiving end of faulty and irregular electricity supply. Niyi Osundare’s poem, “NEPA”, echoes similar sentiments.

“NEPA” by Niyi Osundare projects the effects of irregular power supply on a mass of Nigerian citizenry. The title of the poem is a Nigerian acronym which stands for National Electric Power Authority. It was a government organisation vested with the responsibility of supplying electricity to all Nigerians. However, due to its inability to provide stable and even electricity, Nigerians coined a new meaning for the acronym, which is Never Expect Power Always.

The Nigerian electricity distribution system has gone through several facelifts and changes in nomenclature but what remains after all these years is the dysfunctional, constantly interrupted electricity.  It is so banal that when the light is brought on and off, Nigerians shout “UP NEPA” and “DOWN NEPA” respectively.

The instability is what Niyi Osundare describes in his poem as “unsure, unstable like a dizzy bum” and Fela Anikulapo puts as “e dey go dey come, e dey come dey go.”

Niyi Osundare’s “NEPA” zeroes in on the epileptic power supply in the poet’s home country, Nigeria. The poem draws on the effects of the abnormal power supply on the Nigerian citizens. It pictures a country where electricity which should be a basic amenity enjoyed by all has become a rarity.

“NEPA” describes in vivid terms the electric power instability which is a perennial Nigerian problem and its effects on Nigerians. Structurally, the poem has a total of eighteen lines divided into three stanzas of unequal lengths. It has the rhyme scheme of AABBCCDDEEFFGGHHII.


Stanza One (Lines 1-2)

In this stanza, the persona intimates us of how their regular day and night go with irregular or no electricity at all. Referring to NEPA with second person pronoun “you”, the persona accuses NEPA of spoiling their “fun” and ruining their “plays”.

It is clear that there is next to no electricity both during the day and night; thus, earning them the qualifying adjectives “hot” and “dark” respectively.

Stanza Two (Lines 3-6)

The persona goes on to describe the effects of irregular power supply on the citizens. He depicts the lacunae caused by the ineffective NEPA: “The fridge is warm, the stove is cold”; and the resulting effect which is hunger that is “strong and bold.”

Electricity has other domestic uses apart from lighting bulbs and powering fans as visually painted in stanza one. It is also used in cooking. Compared to other modern means of cooking, it is cheaper. Its absence or instability may bring about hunger especially for people who can’t afford other means.

In lines 5 and 6, the poem depicts the instability of electricity; how it comes and goes in the manner of an abiku: “You come and go, you go and come.” This line has its pidginised variant in Fela’s “Original Suffer Head”: “e dey go dey come, e dey come dey go.”

In the next line, NEPA which is a symbol of Nigerian epileptic electric power supply is depicted as “unsure, unstable, like a dizzy bum.”

Stanza Three (Lines 7-18)

The poet goes explosive on the dire effects of interrupted and unstable electricity supply on the Nigerian populace, noting how it disrupts their everyday activities.

One moment, there is a “bright surge” of light; the next moment, it morphs and takes the form of a flickering “yellow candle” that hardly kindles “our darkest fear”. This again echoes another Fela line: “e go bright gan, e go bright small.”

The fluctuation in electricity has serious consequences in homes and workplaces. People work and live under conditions which are anything but enabling and comfortable: “Sweat at work, sweat in the homes . . . .”

It also affects the productivity of Nigerian industries, many of which are electricity-dependent: “factories go without a hum.” Students are not left untouched by the effects of irregular electric power supply as their academic activities are affected too, with their “books unread, homework undone.”

The poet persona then compares NEPA to a “leper” and ends on the note that “it’s hard to cope” with the dark disabling system effected by the irregular power supply.

In today’s world, electricity is very important in the effective discharge of our daily activities. However, it is saddening that years after Niyi Osundare wrote “NEPA” and Fela Anikulapo Kuti sang “Original Suffer Head”, power cuts still remain the bane of many Nigerians’ existence.

Thematically, the poem focuses on the regular power outage in Nigeria and its posing as a significant problem to Nigerians.

Figures of Speech


“. . . like a dizzy bum” (l. 6)


“Hunger in the house is strong and bold” (l. 4)


NEPA is addressed with pronoun “you” throughout as if it were an animate entity and present physically.


“In churches and mosques and their towers and domes” (l. 10)


Dark . . . days” (l. 2)
“Hunger . . . house” (l. 4)


“NEPA” depicts a society where the provision of stable and uninterrupted electricity is considered too well for an undeserving citizenry. Consequently, the ordinary citizens continue to bear the brunt of power cuts.

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